Book Review: Driving Home Both Ways by Dylan Moore

Book - Driving Home Both Ways by Dylan MooreDriving Home Both Ways is a detailed account of the author’s travels over a period of thirteen years, from the moment he set off from Brecon to Cardiff as a teenager. Exploring themes of identity, nationhood and community, he continually refers back to his Welsh roots, recounting trips to destinations across the globe – from the Basque Country to Slovenia, from Mexico to San Francisco… exploring some unique places along the way.  

Each short chapter is something between an essay, a travelogue and a flash (non)-fiction piece. Each one is cemented in place and time with a date: ‘Seville, 2011’ and a title ‘Postcards from Seville’, and each can be read in isolation from the rest, though their arrangement is rather like that of a poetry collection – not chronological but following through a seam of thought, gathering momentum as we move further and further from Wales.

Dylan Moore reading at the launch event

Dylan Moore reading at the launch event

The first few chapters concern themselves with a search for identity, considering what it means to be Welsh, and finding an affinity with the Basque country (as a similarly suppressed small nation within a larger nation). Other chapters seem more abstract – critical commentaries on aspects of our culture, the nature of travel writing and the significance of local rituals, as the style and tone moves from cultural analysis to literary criticism and political debate.

There are some astute observations – small gems of insight worth quoting, such as the realisation that we can be quick to judge other cultures:

“I am judging an event I haven’t seen on the sole basis that it features men in pointy hoods. I remind myself that my inexplicable discomfort with Catholic iconography would be reciprocated perhaps by a Spaniard witnessing Britain’s annual celebration of Protestant supremacism, where we eat hotdogs while an effigy of a Catholic insurrectionist burns…. Sometimes you really can divorce an event from its context.”

The pieces which I enjoyed the most, however, are those which give a more personal take. In reading ‘The Sun Also Rises’, I felt as if I too had met Mikel (a café owner in Pamplona) who goes out of his way to make a cup of tea, welcoming two Brits to his café and advocating the health-giving properties of non-alcoholic beer whilst talking about the book he has written on the true story of San Fermin. In Moore’s words: “A half-hour with Mikel has provided half a lifetime’s worth of food for thought. We only went in for coffee.”

Other passages are more challenging to read, such as the encounter with a gypsy girl begging in Venice:

“…here, in the shadow of a cathedral, in a strange and atmospheric city of shadows and bridges and dark canals, the destitute look you in the eye.”

The official launch of this book took place in the Newport school where Moore teaches English. He listed two major literary influences – Orwell and Hemingway. You can certainly tell that just by reading a few pages. Not only is Moore’s writing full of long, detailed sentences (like Hemingway) or political assertion (like Orwell), but their own travels are often referred to directly. It is a kind of homage to these two literary greats – Moore has followed, literally, in their footsteps, and his writing connects with theirs.

The beauty of this small book is that each passage is self-contained. If you’re not enjoying one you can easily move on to the next without missing out on much. But together they form a sequence of encounters, a search for community and connection amid the chaos and confusion of a turbulent world. From Wales to Spain, India to Mexico, and many places in between, we end up in Cameroon, where the book culminates with its most personal tale, as the author encounters a genuine, open Christian community; one where people say it like it is, where women are becoming empowered in their work for equality, and where the author’s own preconceptions and reservations are overturned by a humble pastor’s sermon.

This book will not slot easily into any genre, but it is inspiring and challenging – a celebration of humanity in all its diversity – and well worth reading.

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